CAREER: UNDERSTANDING SOCIALITY AND SYMBIOSIS THROUGH THE EYE OF NON-NEOISOPTERAN TERMITES USING MOLECULAR AND MORPHOLOGICAL DATA

Project Details

Description

Termites are economically important because their wood feeding affects human residential and business environments. Termites are also ecologically important because they digest one of the most abundant macromolecules on land, cellulose. Termites are social insects that eat plants, from grasses to hard wood. But they cannot digest this diet, rich in cellulose, without small organisms that live in their gut known as endosymbionts. The diet of termites varies among species, and so too does the type of endosymbiont found in their gut. It is possible that termites have changed diets and changed endosymbionts multiple times during their evolution. This project uses genetic, behavioral, diet, and morphological (appearance) traits to understand termite evolution. In addition, this research will focus on mentoring, recruiting and retaining students from underprivileged or underrepresented groups in science. This goal will be reached using an academic pipeline extending from Newark High Schools to undergraduate study at Rutgers University and ultimately to graduate research. Students from Newark high schools will be trained in fieldwork and the scientific method via Aim High, an existing program through Rutgers University, increasing recruitment of underprivileged students to post-secondary education. Undergraduate and graduate students will gain teaching experience through Aim High, while also being trained in laboratory and fieldwork.This project will test large,comprehensive phylogenetic hypotheses of Termitoidea and their endosymbionts with a thorough, global taxon sample. Phylogenetic reconstructions will be based on both molecular and morphological data, and will be analyzed for co-evolutionary patterns. Divergence estimation analyses, biogeographical analyses and ancestral-state reconstruction will allow us to evaluate the timing of shifts in functional and phylogenetic diversity globally. Diversification rate shifts in the lower termites will be estimated, and evaluated in the context of diet, behavior and morphological adaptations. This work will be used to address the question of which came first for termite evolution, shifts in diet or shifts in the endosymbiont microbes living in their guts? It further examines how these changes drove the evolution of termite social behavior? By using knowledge of relationships in testing for the correlation of ecological roles and endosymbiont diversity with termite morphology and diet, researchers can determine what aspects of termite life history led to the formation of new species.
StatusFinished
Effective start/end date3/15/152/29/20

Funding

  • National Science Foundation (National Science Foundation (NSF))

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